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Everyday Legal Problems

Options for Legal Help

There are options for free and low-cost legal help.

Depending on how complex your legal issues are, it can be helpful to have a legal professional assist you. There are options for free and low-cost legal help.

Options for free or low-cost legal advice

There may be times when you want legal advice. Options for free or low-cost legal advice include:

Lawyer Referral Service

A service from the Canadian Bar Association, BC Branch that offers referrals to lawyers who can provide up to a half-hour consultation for $25 plus taxes. 

Lower Mainland: 604-687-3221
Toll-free: 1-800-663-1919
Email: lawyerreferral@cbabc.org
Web: cbabc.org

Legal Services Society

The agency that operates legal aid in British Columbia provides a range of advice and representation services to help people for certain types of legal problems who meet financial guidelines.

Lower Mainland: 604-408-2172
Toll-free: 1-866-577-2525
Web: legalaid.bc.ca

Access Pro Bono

At clinics throughout BC, volunteer lawyers provide free legal advice to people with limited means.

Lower Mainland: 604-878-7400
Toll-free: 1-877-762-6664
Web: accessprobono.ca

A more affordable way to hire a lawyer — unbundled legal services

According to national surveys of lawyer fees, hourly rates for lawyers range from $200 to $400, depending on the experience of the lawyer, the size of the law firm, and the type of matter. To hire a lawyer in a lawsuit costs $10,000 to $50,000 and beyond, depending on whether the case goes to trial and how complex and contentious it is.  

An emerging option that can reduce the expense is to look for a lawyer that offers "unbundled legal services". This can allow you to get a lawyer's assistance depending on what you can afford and what you need the most help with. See our page on unbundled legal services to learn whether this option could be a good fit for your situation.

Notaries help with many non-contentious legal services

Depending on your situation, you may be able to get help from other legal professionals. A notary public is a legal professional authorized to provide many non-contentious legal services to the public. For example, a notary can prepare a will or power of attorney and notarize signatures on documents. The Society of Notaries Public of BC offers a list of notaries in the province. 

Advocates provide help for low-income and marginalized people

Legal advocates provide free support, advocacy and information to low-income and marginalized people experiencing legal problems. Advocates usually work out of community agencies, such as community service centres, churches or women's centres. PovNet offers a Find an Advocate map, and Clicklaw's HelpMap lists dozens of legal advocates in BC.

Student legal clinics provide assistance in some communities

At student legal clinics in the Lower Mainland and Victoria, law students can help those who would otherwise be unable to afford legal assistance. The students help with legal problems such as tenancy or work problems, accessing government benefits, (less serious) criminal charges, and small claims cases. The University of British Columbia's Law Students' Legal Advice Program clinics serve the Lower Mainland and the University of Victoria's Law Centre serves the Victoria area. 

Finding legal help in your community

The Clicklaw HelpMap includes options for free or low-cost legal help in communities across the province.

For more options for legal help, see the Dial-A-Law page on free and low-cost legal help.

Preparing to Work in BC

Learn how to prepare for and settle into a job if you're coming to work in British Columbia.

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People from all over the world discover opportunities to live and work in British Columbia. In fact, the province’s economy relies heavily on foreign workers. If you’re considering coming to work in BC, these tips can help you prepare for and settle into a job.

Tip 1. Explore government programs for foreign workers

Some people from other countries drop briefly into British Columbia for short-term employment. Others working here apply to become permanent residents. Either way, there are government programs available to foreign workers. 

The federal government’s website explains your options for coming to Canada for work. Use this eligibility tool to see if you qualify to come as an immigrant, temporary resident or visitor.

If you come to BC for temporary work

Every year, employers in British Columbia depend on workers from abroad to meet their short-term needs. Without these workers, some sectors of the province’s economy would face serious challenges.

The Temporary Foreign Worker Program and the International Mobility Program permit eligible foreigners to work in Canada for a limited time, and help employers tap into this workforce. (Employers may need to show they can’t find Canadian workers to fill these job openings.) See our guidance on working in BC temporarily for more information.

If you immigrate to Canada

BC’s economy benefits from skilled workers. The BC Provincial Nominee Program helps skilled workers from other countries get permanent residence in BC. 

There are three ways this program can serve such workers:

If none of these describes you, you may still be able to come to Canada through another program. For example:

  • Canadian Experience Class: Helps people with skilled work experience in Canada to become permanent residents.
  • Family Sponsorship: Allows citizens and permanent residents over 18 years of age to sponsor certain types of relatives to come to Canada.
  • Self-Employed Persons Program: Helps people with experience in certain industries, and who will be self-employed in Canada, to become permanent residents.

For more immigration options, see the provincial government’s website.

If you’re immigrating to Canada, you can hire an immigration consultant or lawyer, though the law doesn’t require you to do so. If you choose to do so, watch out for immigration scams. The federal government has information on how to avoid being the victim of fraud and how to choose an immigration representative.

Tip 2. Get help from a settlement service

“I’m originally from the Philippines. Two years ago I moved to BC because my relatives live here. My English wasn’t great, and I didn’t have any Canadian work experience. After arriving, I contacted a settlement service. They helped me register in language classes, take a training course, and even look for jobs. I’ve been working as a mover for eight months now, and I feel very fortunate.”

– John Carlo, Surrey

In BC, community and government organizations assist people new to Canada. These settlement services can answer questions about living and working here. They can help with:

  • language assessments and classes
  • finding a job
  • finding a place to live and navigating other parts of daily life, such as filling out forms or applications
  • information about community services

Use this tool on the federal government’s website to search for settlement services near you.

Many community centres offer programs and facilities for newcomers to Canada, usually in a variety of languages. Try searching online to find a community centre near you, or ask your settlement service agency. 

A neighbourhood house is similar to a community centre. Neighbourhood houses provide many programs and services in Metro Vancouver, and they’re open to everyone. Check out the Association of Neighbourhood Houses BC website to find one near you.

NewToBC works with libraries and immigrant service providers to offer programs for newcomers to BC. The NewToBC website includes immigrant settlement guides.

Tip 3. On searching for a job

In most cases, you must have a job offer in place before you arrive in British Columbia. Here are some resources to check out before you leave your home country:

  • WorkBC job board. Offers a comprehensive database of jobs from across the province.
  • WelcomeBC career profiles. Includes information on dozens of occupations in BC, including wages, licensing requirements, and more.
  • BC’s Labour Market Outlook. Forecasts job opportunities in BC’s labour market over the next few years, and outlines the skills and education needed for them.

For more resources like these, see the provincial government’s website.

To kickstart your job search, you might also try these measures: 

  • Check the online job listings or classified sections of local and national newspapers.
  • Reach out to the employment departments of the organizations you’d like to work for.
  • Ask friends or family in BC for leads.
  • Explore volunteer opportunities to help you get Canadian work experience.
  • Visit the Skilled Immigrant InfoCentre for employment programs and information.

Tip 4. Get a credentials assessment if you’re a skilled worker

Before you start looking for work, you may need to have your credentials assessed if you wish to immigrate under any of the skilled worker or provincial nominee programs.

A credentials assessment will look at any accreditations you got outside Canada, such as:

  • education
  • work experience
  • professional credentials

This assessment will give potential employers an idea of the kind of work you’re qualified to do. It’ll also reveal if your credentials meet the standards set for Canadian workers. If they don’t, you may need to pursue more training, education or Canadian work experience.

See our guidance on coming to Canada as a skilled worker for more information on the topic.

No matter what type of job you’re looking for, make sure you can speak and understand the language. Basic linguistic skills to navigate in a new country are the bare minimum. To land the job you want may require a higher level of proficiency. See this page on improving your English and French.

Tip 5. Determine if you need a work permit

Most foreign workers need a work permit to be legally employed in Canada. 

There are two types of work permits: 

An employer-specific work permit sets the conditions of your permit, including:

  • the name of the employer you can work for
  • how long you can work
  • the location where you can work (if applicable)
  • the job you may work in

An open work permit allows you to work for any employer in Canada (with some exceptions). Find out if you’re eligible to apply for an open work permit

Use this tool to find out if you need to apply for a work permit. Use this tool to determine what type of work permit to apply for.

See also our guidance on working in BC temporarily and extending your work permit.

Tip 6. Apply for a Social Insurance Number

A Social Insurance Number (SIN) is a nine-digit number you need to work legally in Canada, or to access government programs and benefits. A SIN is issued, for life, to one person only. It can’t be used by anyone else. 

You may be eligible to apply for a SIN if you are:

  • a Canadian citizen,
  • a permanent resident, or
  • a temporary resident.

Children 12 years of age or older can apply for their own SIN. The parents or legal guardians of children under the age of majority (19 in BC) can also apply for a SIN on the child’s behalf. 

To apply for a SIN, you must present a valid primary document, such as a birth certificate, that proves your identity and legal status in Canada. You may also need to provide supporting documents if the name you currently use is different than the one on your primary document. 

The federal government’s website explains eligibility and how to apply for a SIN.

Your SIN is your most important piece of personal identification. Take steps to protect it. Otherwise, you could end up being the victim of fraud or theft. The federal government’s website provides some tips on protecting your SIN and knowing when to give it out.

Earning the Minimum Wage

Top 10 things to know about the minimim wage for workers in BC.

“Last summer I started my first job as a dishwasher. My starting wage was $10 an hour. I thought that seemed pretty low, but it was my first job so I didn’t question it. Then I discovered it was below minimum wage. I gathered my courage and raised the issue with my boss. He agreed to bump my wage to the legal minimum.”

– Fred, Langley

Minimum wage is the lowest wage an employer can pay a worker. Here are 10 key things to know about the minimum wage in British Columbia.

1. The minimum wage applies to most (but not all) workers

A BC law requires employers to pay workers at least a minimum wage. This law applies to most workers in the province. But some workers are not covered by it. For example, babysitters aren't covered. Nor are people working in certain government incentive programs while receiving government benefits. Workers in industries regulated by the federal government (such as banks or airlines) are covered by federal laws, not by the provincial law. 

For a full list of workers not covered by the BC minimum-wage law, see the provincial government's page, Do Employment Standards Apply to You?

Even if you sign a contract for wages lower than the minimum wage, you are still owed at least the minimum wage. You cannot contract yourself out of what is given to you under the main law protecting workers in BC. However, if your contract promises you more than the minimum wage, you should receive that higher wage.  

2. The general minimum wage applies to most workers

Most workers that are covered by the BC minimum-wage law are entitled to the general minimum wage. As of June 1, 2019, the general minimum wage is $13.85 per hour.

Special minimum wage rates apply for some jobs:

  • liquor servers
  • live-in camp leaders
  • live-in home support workers
  • resident caretakers
  • farm workers who pick crops by hand

These are explained below.

3. Liquor servers have a different minimum wage (for now)

A liquor server is a worker:

  • whose primary duties are serving food or drinks, and
  • who, as a regular part of their job, serves liquor directly to customers or guests in premises with a liquor licence.

Hosts, bussers, dishwashers, cooks and other kitchen workers whose primary duties don’t involve serving liquor are paid the general minimum wage. If one of these workers is occasionally required to serve liquor, the general rate still applies to them. 

As of June 1, 2019, the minimum wage for liquor servers is $12.70 per hour.

The different minimum wage for liquor servers is being phased out. As of June 1, 2021, the general minimum wage will apply to liquor servers. 

Even if you’re a server at a restaurant with a liquor licence, you may not be a liquor server under the law. For example, if you serve food and drink but not liquor, the liquor server minimum wage does not apply.

4. Minimum wages for certain live-in workers are based on a daily rate

Minimum wages for live-in camp leaders and live-in home support workers are based on a daily rate.

A live-in camp leader is someone who:

  • works for a charity at a summer or seasonal camp for people under age 19,
  • provides instruction and counselling to campers, and
  • provides those services on a 24 hour per day live-in basis without being charged for room and board.

As of June 1, 2019, the minimum wage for live-in camp leaders is $110.87 for each day or part day worked.   

A live-in home support worker is someone who:

  • works for an employer providing government-funded home support services for a sick or disabled person, and
  • provides those services on a 24 hour per day live-in basis without being charged for room and board.

As of September 17, 2017, the minimum wage for live-in home support workers is $113.50 for each day or part day worked.  

5. A resident caretaker's minimum wage depends on the size of the apartment

A resident caretaker is someone who:

  • lives in an apartment building that has more than eight residential suites, and
  • is employed as a caretaker, custodian, janitor or manager of that building.

There may be more than one resident caretaker in a building. The minimum wage for resident caretakers is a monthly wage based on the number of suites in the building. Where they work less than a full month, their wages are prorated (that is, adjusted based on the number of days worked).

As of June 1, 2019, the minimum wage for a resident caretaker is:

  • For an apartment with nine to 60 suites: $831.45 per month plus $33.32 for each suite.
  • For an apartment with more than 60 suites: $2,832.11 per month.

6. Farm workers who pick crops by hand must be paid a minimum piece rate

The law in BC includes a detailed description of who is considered a farm worker. Farm workers who pick crops by hand may be paid by piece rate — that is, by the amount picked. 

As of January 1, 2019, the minimum piece rates are:

Crop

Minimum Piece Rate

Apples

$21.06 per bin (0.767m3)

Apricots

$24.23 per half bin (0.388m3)

Beans

$0.637 per kg

Blueberries

$1.077 per kg

Brussel sprouts

$0.443 per kg

Cherries

$0.610 per kg

Grapes

$22.38 per half bin (0.388m3)

Mushrooms

$0.639 per kg

Peaches

$22.38 per half bin (0.357m3)

Pears

$23.72 per bin (0.767m3)

Peas

$0.794 per kg

Prune plums

$23.72 per half bin (0.388m3)

Raspberries

$0.971 per kg

Strawberries

$0.934 per kg

Daffodils* 

$0.169 per bunch (10 stems)

* The rate for daffodils does not include vacation pay

7. Tips don’t count towards your wages

Tips (sometimes called "gratuities") are paid by customers in appreciation for a service. Under BC law, tips don’t count as wages. Your regular wage — before tips — must be at least the minimum wage.

For example, say you earn $4 per hour in tips. Your employer can’t pay you only $10 an hour on the rationale that your total earnings ($10 in wages plus $4 in tips) exceed the minimum wage. What you earn in tips is your money. It can’t figure into your employer’s calculation of your wage.

Your employer can require you to pool your tips and to share them with workers whose work doesn’t generally get recognized with tips — for example, dishwashers. Your employer doesn’t get a cut of the tips, unless they’re doing the same work as the workers earning tips. 

Your employer can’t use your tips to cover business costs. For example, they can’t use your tips to offset losses from customers who dine-and-dash. If they do, you’re entitled to that money back. See if your employer hasn’t paid you

8. If you are paid on commission, minimum wage still applies

If you are paid on commission, and your earnings fall below the minimum wage for the number of hours you work, your employer must pay you the difference between your commission earned and the minimum wage. This is the case whether you are paid 100% on commission or part commission and part hourly wages.

Also, your employer cannot use your earnings from a subsequent pay period where you earn more than the minimum wage to top up your earnings in a pay period where you earn less than minimum wage.  

9. Trainees are entitled to the minimum wage

The law in BC that protects workers applies to someone who is being trained by an employer for the employer’s business. This means the rules around minimum wage apply to trainees

However, if you want extra training for something your current job doesn’t require, your employer needn’t cover it. For example, suppose you want to do training that might set you up for a promotion but won’t be useful in your current job. That’s commendable. But it’s on you. 

Generally, interns must be paid the minimum wage. However, there are certain exceptions where an internship may be unpaid. See the Canadian Intern Association's website.

10. Minimum wages will increase through 2021

Under BC law, minimum wages will increase through 2021. The general minimum wage will be set at:

  • June 1, 2020 – $14.60 per hour
  • June 1, 2021 – $15.20 per hour

Minimum wages will also increase for most of the jobs with different minimum rates. For example, the minimum wage for liquor servers and resident caretakers will go up each year through 2021. For details, see the provincial government's information on the minimum wage.

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